Toxic Dust Clouds, Water Crises & Legal Trouble: What Antofagasta’s Closed-Door AGM is Trying to Hide From

Key Points

  • Antofagasta Minerals (one of the world’s ten largest copper mining companies) will hold its AGM behind closed doors, though other companies have decided to hold their AGMs online, open to shareholders.
  • People living near the company’s Mauro waste dam now live under a toxic dust cloud that “could be more dangerous than the Coronavirus.”
  • Legal action is ongoing regarding Antofagasta’s non-compliance with national and international indigenous and national laws.
  • The company contributes to the deepest water crisis that Chile has seen in over 10 years, severely affecting the chances of preventing COVID-19 infections.
image of protesters demonstrating against extractivism in their community. Many carry the Wiphala indigenous Andean flag. At the front of the demonstration is a banner reading "El Gobinero solo quiere nuestros reccursos naturales, nuestros problemas no le interesan"
Gabriel Rives, Atacameños Peoples Council, 2019.

Antofagasta Minerals, one of the ten largest copper mining companies in the world which extracted more than 770,000 tons of concentrated copper and cathodes in 2019 (1), will hold their AGM on Wednesday May 20th. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this AGM will be held behind closed doors, though other companies have decided to hold their AGMs online and open to shareholders.

The company, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has its operations concentrated in Chile: the Los Pelambres mining company, 120 km from the Andes Mountains in the Coquimbo Region; Centinela and Antucoya mining companies in the Antofagasta region; and the Zaldívar mining company in the Antofagasta foothills.

Mining companies have a highly negative impact on the environment and the life of communities around their operations. They have used the health crisis to evade their responsibilities and avoid having to account for their actions. Antofagasta is a case in point: Elif Karakartal, an independent observer from the Danielle Mitterand Foundation, comments on the impacts of the company’s Mauro waste dam at its Los Pelambres operations,

Since 6 May, the residents of Caimanes have suffered a new environmental problem. Toxic dust hangs over the town. Residents say this “fog” is not natural and blame it on the dam. The mining company blames the drought and the wind, which is blowing the toxic dust over the valley. But this incident shows that it can no longer be denied that there is contamination. Villagers fear for their health and assert that this dust could be more dangerous than the Coronavirus.”

Antofagasta’s impact on the environment and the lives of indigenous communities of Chile has landed them in legal trouble more than once. In the territory of the indigenous community of Peine, San Pedro de Atacama, locals have constantly denounced the environmental impacts of the Zaldivar mining company’s mineral extraction and water use. For this reason the Peine community, with the support of the Atacameños People’s Council, has taken legal action against the ministries of Energy, Economy and Mining over the company’s non-compliance with national and international indigenous and national laws. However, as part of the Antofagasta group, which is controlled by the massively influential Luksic family, Zaldivar mining company has followed a strategy of putting pressure on community leaders, offering job opportunities and corporate social responsibility programmes.

In northern Chile, residents of the community of Caimanes filed a claim against Antofagasta’s ‘Complementary Infrastructure Project’ at its Los Pelambres mine. The claim was accepted by the Environmental Court of the Government of Chile (2). The project includes operations in the communes of Salamanca, Illapel and Los Vilos, in the Coquimbo region. The impact that the mining giant has made here is tremendous. It has degraded the lives, lands and waters of local communities, rendering their existence precarious. Affected communities claim they live under constant threat and that this project will further affect their lives.

Antofagasta Minerals claim to “act in accordance with our corporate values, prioritizing safety and health, human rights, dialogue, transparency and contribution to local development” (3) in their commitment to communities, but the reality is different. The culture and sovereignty of indigenous communities have been badly affected by extractive violence. The company is a contributor to the deepest water crisis that Chile has experienced for more than ten years (4): in the Choapa Valley, water contamination has increased and there is excessive exploitation of the river and its basins. (5)

This water crisis only compounds the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Antofagasta region (for which the company is named) is in total quarantine due to the high number of infections. Andean communities do not have access to health care, and the community of Peine, there are only five stretchers. Communities without proper access to water are finding it nearly impossible to prevent infection from spreading. As Sergio Cubillos Verasay, President of the Council of the Atacameños Peoples, comments:

Until January of this year, a total of 4,000 litres of water were being extracted every second in the Salar de Atacama by all the mining companies, in comparison with 1.5 litres per second which an entire community has to live on.” (6)

He was referring to the Peine community, affected by Minera Zaldívar, operated by Antofagasta Minerals, which consumes 213.5 litres per second of freshwater in their territory.(7)

Today, communities affected by Antofagasta fear for their lives. So do the mine workers: through their unions, they have made claims for protection to the Antofagasta area’s court of appeals, asking it to declare a total quarantine in the work place. (8)

London Mining Network, working with theConsejo de Pueblos Atacameños, have submitted a list of questions to Antofagasta Minerals’ AGM regarding the environmental and human cost of their operations. As shareholders are not invited to participate, this is the only way of communicating concerns at the Annual General Meeting.

London Mining Network (LMN) is an alliance of human rights, development, environmental and solidarity groups working to hold London-based mining companies to account by working closely with mining-affected communities. LMN conducts research on mining and alternatives, and works to make issues of extractivism more relevant through education, outreach and events.


Saul Jones – Communications Coordinator